Opening Night: Boarder X & Vernon Ah Kee: cantchant

Post by Nic Adamson

Boarder X features the work of seven Indigenous artists who’s influences from skate, surf, and snowboard culture are used to demonstrate relationships to the land.

As someone who grew up with skateboarding and art shaping my identity, I sometimes feel ambivalent about the role that skateboarding has within the art community. Art has always had a strong presence within the the skate community, and it is no coincidence that many skateboarders have become well known artists. The likes of Larry Clark, Ed Templeton, Mark Gonzales and Spike Jonze have shown how skateboarding’s influence can extend far beyond the skateboarding community. However, it is still rare to see the subculture represented credibly within the world of institutional and academic art. So when I first heard Jaimie Isaac talking about using board culture in her new exhibition, I was intrigued to find out how she would bring skateboarding into the WAG.


Boarder X is effective in the way it creates an accessible and interactive environment for youth. Most young skateboarders in Manitoba do not visit the WAG regularly unless to skate down the Tyndall stone ten-stair outside of the building. So what better way to bring this potential audience into the Gallery than by building a skate ramp and grind box inside Eckhardt Hall? Ramps and boxes are essentially replications of ideas taken from infrastructure in big cities – the concrete channels of the L.A. River have inspired the design for many skateparks. The same is done in snowboarding. Even surfers have found ways to create synthetic waves in indoor pools. Grind boxes and ramps mimic the landscapes around us, from concrete banks and curbs, benches, and many other forms of architecture. These reconstructions allow for snowboarders, surfers, and skaters to express themselves by creating new variations of tricks on new surfaces. No ramp or rail is identical.

For the opening night of Boarder X, riders from Green Apple, Sk8 Skates, and Red Riding Media were invited to skate a custom-built ramp in the WAG. The paintings on the ramp portrayed a flow and movement that is relevant to the way skaters engage with their surroundings. As the night proceeded the skaters became more comfortable in their roles as performance artists. Spectators gathered around the setup while parents shielded their children from stray boards that periodically flew off the ramp. Kids rushed through the crowd with boards in hand, while others somewhat dubiously observed their surroundings.

Boarder X at the WAG from Nicholas Adamson on Vimeo.

Beyond the enticement of the skate ramp is a body of work that examines more than boarding culture. Boarder X uses the allure of skate, surf, and snowboarding as a method to examine more complex socio-political issues facing Indigenous peoples. Making a connection with young Indigenous boarders, I think, is the first step to opening up a larger conversation about land rights, culture, and identity. The exhibition presents the ways in which our bodies can so seamlessly merge with waves, or bounce hard against puffs of snow. Our relationship with land can be an equally beautiful and painful struggle. But the exhibition shows how we can be empowered to change the landscape. Even the toughest of man-made structures can be reclaimed and repurposed after being cemented into the ground.

Paradoxically, many of Winnipeg’s corporate and government centres (Woodsworth Building, Law Courts, Public Safety Building) produce some of the city’s most iconic skate spots. So all young boarders, whether they are aware of it or not, are active vehicles for altering how we think about using this territory.


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